by: Jon Miller

As VP Marketing at a B2B marketing automation company, I’m under constant pressure to take our marketing to the next level. When marketing to other marketers, the way we interact with our own prospects is a direct reflection of the capabilities of our lead management solution. If we can't market ourselves like a world-class company — and make it look easy — then why should our customers trust us to help them do it?

At the same time, I face the same challenges all marketers face: limited budget and limited resources. At Marketo, we've managed to create a strong brand and a powerful marketing machine, and through it all I've learned how to be a better high-tech marketer. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. (Note: This is a longer version of an article I published recently on GigaOM.)

9 Marketing Lessons for High Tech Companies

1. Try to be everywhere. Buyers trained to search online for their personal purchases are now using the same strategies for their business purchases, even as they continue to tune out unwanted "interruption marketing". At Marketo, our early marketing goal was to spread out as many online tentacles as possible so that a customer searching for solutions like ours would come across us. Since we didn't have a ton of money to begin, we focused on high ROI tactics such this blog and search engine optimization. Two years later, these early investments have paid us back with great search engine rankings and lots of "free" traffic.

2. Manage leads — don’t generate demand. We recognized that most the prospects on our site are early-stage buyers who are researching and don't yet want to talk to a sales rep. This meant we needed to excel at lead management, especially using automated lead nurturing to develop relationships with qualified prospects and lead scoring to know when a lead is ready for sales. By combining lead management with "pull marketing" strategies like search, we've synchronized our marketing process with the prospect's research and buying processes. The result is a machine that's at least twice as productive as anything I've seen before. (Note: BtoB Magazine just published a great column from Karen Breen Vogel of ClearGauge on this topic called "Focus on facilitating demand, not generating it".)

3. Test everything — but don’t over test. At Marketo, we test everything: offers, copy, forms, designs, lists, and more. Testing removes any debate about what works and what doesn’t, since it lets our customers vote with their actions. However, one thing we’ve learned is not to "overtest", since too many variables yield insignificant results. To help you out, we've created a free online test calculator that will tell you how many tests you can run on your site.

4. Seed your community. One of our competitive strategies is to provide the best overall customer experience possible. In addition to investing in support and customer success managers, this meant building an online marketing success community where customers, employees, prospects, partners, and other influencers can share ideas and best practices. Of course, the more people in a community, the more valuable it is (e.g. the "network effort"). This makes it hard to a community started — if nobody else participates, why should you? So, we "seeded" our community with content and some initial friendly users to get the ball rolling.

5. Establish marketing's credibility early. Too many marketers use metrics that show activity, not results, and even fewer connect the results to bottom-line metrics that matter to the other executives. The most common marketing metric is "cost per lead", but framing the discussion in terms of costs perpetuates the perception that marketing is a cost center. In a world where I knew that marketing executives have one of the highest rates of involuntary turnover in the enterprise, I made efforts from day one to use ROI justifications for every marketing investment, forecast results, and demonstrate marketing's impact on hard metrics like revenue and growth. By talking about marketing in the same financial language as the other executives I was able to establish marketing as a key driver of revenue alongside sales.

6. Don’t forget to train the sales people. When we launched, I focused too much on the marketing aspects (website, collateral, PR, lead generation, etc.) and left it to the salespeople to figure out how to actually sell the thing. The problem is that selling today is hard — really hard. Time is precious, decision makers don't want to talk to sales reps, and it's usually easier to deal with the status quo than invest time in change. So, I learned don't skimp on the sales tools and training, especially helping them craft compelling value propositions and communicate your differentiators.

7. Balance. If any one thing describes high-tech marketing, it's the need to do a lot of things with a small team and limited resources. Just yesterday, I had to review a press release, create a new sales tool, coordinate with one of my advertising partners, practice for an upcoming webinar, update our lead scoring rules, give a demo, interview a candidate, and meet with a partner. Instead of letting this stress you out, take a cue from yoga, let go of anything unnecessary, and find balance between awareness, demand generation, sales support, and product.

8. Build capability in stages. When we first started out, it felt like a victory just to get the company named and a basic website up. Then, we started our first AdWords campaign and captured our first lead. Then we added the next capability, and so on and so on, with no end. I recognized that building a marketing department is a journey. We have destinations along the way (a launch, a release, a new website, etc.) but each step is just that: a step up a big staircase. With each step, we build the maturity of the marketing department and increase our capability, and on and on.

9. Invest in the right tools. As a vendor of a marketing software solution, admittedly I’m biased on this one, but I believe it's impossible to manage a productive marketing department without technology support. The number of possible channels and techniques we must master has exploded, and many of these require sophisticated testing, analytics, and targeting to do well. Before we had our own tool to use at Marketo, we were overwhelmed by the complexity of managing our campaigns. By using technology to automate the manual aspects of marketing, we're freed to focus on the strategic and creative aspects of marketing that really drive ROI.

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